A photograph Aug. 17 that showed two women signing up for classes at the D.C. Convention Center was mislabeled. The women in the photo -- Iris Williams and Ella Hinkle -- were enrolling in adult education studies. They were not involved in the remedial program for high school dropouts. (Published 9/1/90)
The D.C. school system put out a call for its dropouts to come back, and yesterday 330 of them answered.
Some were in their teens, out of high school for a year or two. Some had come with their children. One was 47.
What they were seeking from the "Dropout Re-Entry State Fair" was another chance. The fair, the first of its kind in a city with one of the nation's highest dropout rates, an estimated 40 percent, brought counselors and representatives from schools, adult education programs and health service centers to help the dropouts select individually tailored programs for reentering the schools.
The mood among them was one of buoyant optimism as they milled around the information desks at the Washington Convention Center. They browsed through fliers or discussed details with counselors.
Catherine Anderson, 31, was determined "not to blow the chance that has been given to me." A widowed mother of three, Anderson said that the financial crunch at home had forced her out of school: "There were four other children and I had to wear my older sisters' clothes. It was a very rough going."
But watching her frolicking 2-year-old twin daughters play with balloons, Anderson, a former nurse assistant at a Washington clinic, smiled as she confessed that her decision to drop out of school in 1977 was "a very poor judgment." Anderson said she was sure "going back to school will help find a job so that I can help my kids, because they are my future."
Doris Woodson, the fair's organizer and the assistant superintendent for the State Office of Special Education, said, "It's time the people knew that education is important not only for them but for us, too, the teachers and the schools. We want them to come back to us."
Woodson's call to the dropouts was spread through a "citywide blitz including 10,000 personal letters" to churches and community centers. Within the first three hours of registration, more than 200 people had checked in at the counter.
Eric Stokes, 19, a clerk at a department store, had quit high school three years ago, relieved that the ordeal of "cutting classes, being suspended and getting into fights every day" was over. "Now, I am more understanding and not so naive," said Stokes, who had taken the day off from work to come to the fair.
When he dropped out, he said, "it seemed to be the best thing to do. But now I want to start again."
There are several forces fueling the high dropout rate, Woodson said. "Some are bored, some get pregnant, some have to work and take care of the family, some feel that the administration is against them."
But she said the fair was much-needed and follow-up programs had been designed to monitor returnees throughout the school year. However, she said that "it is difficult to know what kind of recidivism you may get."
"Most of the people feel that school is a very good option -- they get an education and it is also a safe place, away from the killings and the drug-related violence," said counselor Patricia Roger. But many were apprehensive of being rejected by the school, Roger said.
"They always ask, 'Will the school take me back? Will I be accepted?' I let them know that all they need is a willingness to come back to school," Roger said. She added that "there is no difference in attitude between the 47-year-old and the 17-year-old." Both are equally motivated and ready to look forward, she said.
"I want to go back to school for myself," said 22-year-old Samantha Johnson, a resident of Southeast Washington who left school when she was in 10th grade. "I had to take care of my children," she said, but soon realized that rather than "just living on welfare . . . I had to go to school to set an example for my three sons."